Testimony Before the Maryland House Ways and Means Committee

In Support of House Bill 546
Local Boards of Education - Harassment and Intimidation in Schools

Presented Feb 20, 2008
Annapolis, Maryland

By Janine Wiggins
Concerned Mother and Witness to Bullying-Induced Suicide

Thank you for this opportunity to share my views on House Bill 546, Local Boards of Education - Harassment and Intimidation in Schools. I am here today as a concerned mother and youth worker who has witnessed firsthand the devastating results of prolonged bullying, which is why I support this and the other bills put forth to attack the bullying problem.

In my testimony today, I would like to highlight just two points, each illustrated by real-life examples:

1. That bullying, as a problem, is growing in severity and must be addressed
2. That bullying has long term, negative effects- not just for the victims and perpetrators, but also the witnesses

First, I'd like to highlight the severity of bullying today. Although bullying has never been right, many of us grew up with bullies in our midst, and considered it somewhat of a "rite of passage." We were taught by our parents how to carry ourselves in order to minimize the problem, and there is certainly value in rearing children who are confident, well-adjusted, and able to read (and respond to) social situations. However, over the years of working with youth in my community, I've noted some extreme forms of aggression encountered by today's children, and the helplessness of their caretakers (and parents) to take protective action. For example, just two weeks ago, one of my charges suffered weeks of harassment at school, culminating when the bully told her he was going to bring a gun to school the next day and shoot her. The school was unable to take action, and in fact, was rather dismayed when the father of said student escorted her throughout classes the next day. These children are only 10.

Secondly, I submit to you that bullying has long term, sometimes permanent, negative effects- not just for the victims of such abuse, but also for the third parties who witness the bullying and/or the victims retaliation to the bully. We do need to protect those who are targets of bullies- those who may be perceived as weak, or are, in some way, different from other children; and we do need to provide help for the bully as well, for the safety of all on school grounds. But we also bear a responsibility to the third-party bystander: the witness who struggles with the conflict caused by being unable to report without retaliation. On one hand, they don't want to make themselves the next object of bullying, but on the other, they may the fear for the life of their classmate or be concerned that their school may be the next Columbine. This I have experienced firsthand:

You see, my classmates and I stood helplessly by as we lost one of our own to bullying. This young man was a football player, and originally well liked. Somehow he crossed the wrong group of individuals and was subjected to intense bullying over the course of a school year. I remember originally thinking that it was too bad, but that he was strong, and would probably get over it. As time went on, we all knew that this needed to stop, but felt powerless to do anything. After all, were we to intervene, the wrath of these individuals would be directed our way. We couldn't risk getting involved.

He took his life: in a violent manner, in front of us, on school grounds. Though I am thankful that he didn't lash out against anyone else, as has happened in several school shootings, the image of his death remains with me to this day. I can't help but think that a strong anti-bullying policy combined with a concrete, holistic, and measurable action plan to provide all parties the help they need, would have prevented this needless loss.

Thus I urge you to pass House Bill 546 and the other bills discussed here tonight, which I expect will foster a safe environment to report harassment and bullying, and provide needed care to both the victims and those perpetrating the harassment. I conclude by applauding the sponsors of House Bill 546 and the other anti-bullying bills under consideration, for being proactive in protecting our children and their future. Thank you.